Excited to announce that I'll be attending South Korea this summer! Learning in South Korea is an amazing opportunity full of wonder for myself. I'm continually intrigued by this small but mighty country. I have so many questions and thoughts racing through my head as I begin to prepare for this experience. Looking at past trips from the Korean War Digital History South Korea trip, I'm hopeful we'll be able to share some of the same amazing experiences. They went to a Buddhist temple, visited Korean War monuments and spoke with veterans, and visited the DMZ. When telling my 6th graders, it spoke volumes to me when they said, "Make sure you tell us next year"! Their excitement stemming from the interesting South and North Korean relationship is something I can't wait to explore as well.
Check out the full length video, documenting the amazing experiences that I had in Indonesia.
Click here to read from student perspectives about the 2018 study abroad to Germany.
I found out this week that I'll be traveling with Rochester Community Schools to Germany in February! I am thrilled to be able to join the program where we will travel with several RCS students and staff. Joining me will be principal Mooney, Mr. Phelps, Mrs. Robinson, and Mrs. Herzig, all current or former Van Hoosen staff members in the district, as well as RCS parents and students. The itinerary looks amazing (and thankfully very different from my 2015 study abroad. Below is a map of all the places we will be visiting.
Here is a travel itinerary of all the places we will be visiting in Germany in February. Looks like some amazing places!
Here is a blog from my roommate and TEACH Bahrain fellow Joshua Brown from California. Read about his insights into our experience in Bahrain. Click here.
Pictures from Bahrain.
Culture! This was today’s agenda, so we were starting Bahrain off with a bang. After settling in last night into the hotel, I was fortunate to fight off sleeping on the plane as I was able to sleep perfectly last night. After having a hearty egg and sausage breakfast at the hotel, we headed out by shuttle through Bahrain to our first destination. Traveling through the capital city Manama, it was reminiscent of Jakarta, Indonesia sans the traffic. The buildings were towering, modern skyscrapers, with contemporary designs. Our tour guide joined us and explained the history and culture of Bahrain. I was blown away that a large stretch of where we were traveling through was part of the sea until Bahrain reclaimed the land, i.e. placed land where there was once sea. It’s amazing to the vast extent they were able to add to their island. It’s true with the lack of space on the small island that eventually the only place you can go is outward. There are so many questions about this practice; is it legal internationally? How do they do it? Are they worried about rising sea levels? Why didn’t they develop the barren land to the south. Making it to the main cultural center we were visiting, Shaikh Ebrahim Center, the roads narrowed and the traffic was much more congested. Disembarking at several historical sites which were home to the royal family, we learned about the rich history. The Saudis, Kuwaitis, and Bahrainians all stemmed from the same royal family. Seeing many people in the narrow streets in traditional clothing; women wearing burqas and hijabs, and men with their long cloth hats, I never once felt like how I was dressed drew any extra attention. After going to one building, we visited a historical printing press room and a children’s library. The children’s library was impressive as it was tiny, but served the purpose of helping local kids with literacy. The tiny nooks where these buildings were, exemplified how to make the most out of the limited space. Through forward thinking development, we saw how some architecture projects are trying to introduce green plant life to the sides of buildings, since there is no space to build greenery on the flat land. When we finished touring the local area, we went to a coffee shop, which was extremely modern with their Swedish inspired seating. Patterned rock candy decorated the ceiling as it hung above our heads. It almost was a coffee museum as there were placards throughout regarding the rich history of coffee in Bahrain. The coffee was served with dates, a traditional fruit of the area. The coffee had a taste very unique, with coriander (I believe). After leaving, they sprinkled our hands with rose water. The group we are traveling with has been gelling wonderfully throughout the time together. The ten of us, 8 teachers and our two leads from the Bilateral US-Arab Chamber of Commerce were constantly sharing different thoughts regarding global education. Making our way to the Qal’at Al-Bahrain fort, I was now heading towards my favorite place on the agenda. A UNESCO Historical Site, the building was composed of weathered sandstone bricks. The area was under the sea for hundred of years and was only recently recovered. Looking out at the sea as we walked up the ramp leading towards the fort, it was so surreal to be with fellow TOP 2015 alumni Lou again. Taking pictures throughout, we learned about the history of the temple. We took several detours into the small caves pits, eventually coming to one which was lit with gold lights on the floor, illuminating the room. Heading back with the group, we went out to a traditional Bahrainian restaurant. They served food from throughout the world and I wondered what traditional Bahrainian food is like. It apparently is more akin to Indian food. I had a rice meal called chicken biranyi. Finishing our meal, we finished the day off at the largest museum in Bahrain, the National Bahrainian museum. It was apparent that most of these places were seldom traveled when we went, even though it was a weekend. The museum was mostly empty, but was impressive due to its massive size. Reading the history of Bahrain, it was clear how much they celebrated their rich culture. Their history as a country of exporting pearls for so long is one of the major takeaways. Heading back to the hotel, I was pleasantly pleased with the first day’s activities.
My mission as an educator centers around global education. For years starting as a teacher I felt confined to the four walls in my classroom, but as I’ve grown as a teacher I’ve expanded far beyond those borders. I’ve seen that I can impact students far beyond the confines of my classroom, my school, and even my district. As a teacher I can impact education and schools around the country and even the world. This dramatic shift has happened organically through a simple experiment in international travel through the Transatlantic Outreach Program in 2015 where I traveled to Germany. Thanks to a seemingly innocuous email forwarded by then assistant principal Lisa Fosnaugh, I took a gamble and invested in applying to the TOP program. The itch to continue these experiences and see a wide range of cultures seems to be one that I’ll never be able to finish scratching. After a year which sent me to see the San Diego Zoo behind the scenes courtesy of the Teachers for Conservation Education, I applied for the IREX/Teachers for Global Education fellowship, which thankfully I won. Having spent 10 grueling yet rewarding weeks studying global education through the IREX/TGC Global Education course, I realized my true passion as an educator, global education. Traveling to Indonesia, I was able to practice the ideas of global education, grow as a professional, and meet like minded individuals. While many people may believe that these “trips” are for leisure, I’m quick to quip the amount of work and learning which occurs. The work following these experiences goes beyond landing back at Detroit Metro Airport after an international field experience. Perhaps the most important aspect is continuing to use the experiences to further the mission of global education in your school, community, and across the networks gained from the experience. Continually I tell myself that I never thought when I pursued a career as a social studies teacher that I’d be able to fly across the world and meet new people. Here I am in November, finishing my time at the Global Education Leadership Conference in Washington DC where I’ve reconnected with my amazing Indonesian fellows and many educators who share the same passion that I do. One of the most amazing experiences from the past three years is meeting so many amazing teachers. I’m in awe at the work of the teachers I’ve come in contact with and I’ve become truly humble regarding their talents. Currently I’m working with Sarah Bever and IREX/TGC to create a mini-course of the Global Education course that I took for IREX. This has been my all consuming project I’ve been working on continually through the year. At the conference, I would pitch this idea out to various fellows and I was amazed at the reception of this project. Based on the reaction of so many alumni, this project’s reach may spread far throughout the country. The mission for global education doesn’t stop as I’ll be traveling to Bahrain in less than a week. I can’t wait to see what future adventures I’ll be able to experience and share.
I have the good fortune of joining the TEACH Bahrain 2017 fellowship. The program is brought together by the Bilateral US-Arab Chamber of Commerce. I will be spending one week in Bahrain in November... this NOVEMBER! While I feel like I just got back from Indonesia, the allure of experiencing another country beckons. To my surprise and joy, I found out that of the 8 teachers in the group who were accepted to be part of the fellowship, Wisconsin Educator of the Year, Lou Kindschi will also be joinng. She was one of my favorite fellows on the TOP Germany fellowship from a couple of years ago. I've always been in awe of her talents and commitment to education. Anyways, the trip to the Middle East brings a lot of exciting possibilities. I'm humbled to be selected to travel to Bahrain to experience this country. Bahrain holds a special place in my heart as it was the country I had to research for a memorable project at Adams High School, by the late Mr. Schaltz. The project had students research 16 of the most unknown countries in the world and debate why our country was better than other countries. It was lovingly called, "My Country is Better Than Yours". To think that now, some 15 years later I'm actually visiting the little known country of Bahrain. A special thank you goes to the Rochester Community School district and my principal Dan Mooney for being so supportive of my international study abroad opportunities. More than anyone would be my wife, who has never hesitated in her support for my travels to other countries.
Here is a quick trailer documenting my travels to Indonesia.
Finishing up my time in Indonesia, I've continued to ponder my essential question I had before traveling; "What are the top 3 things you think about when visiting Indonesia?" There's a wide variety of experiences and ideas to pull from, but I've narrowed it down to three.
Developing: As I've been fortunate to travel internationally and see essentially both sides of the spectrum as it relates to educational systems, comparing Indonesia with Germany and America, I've witnessed the wide ranging disparities between the three cultures as well as the many similarities. Throughout the country, we saw wide ranging disparities between the wealthy and the poor. The towering skyscrapers of Jakarta loomed over the city, but at their feet were many weathered and weary huts. Taking for granted the infrastructure that we have in America, I much more appreciate our traffic, the structure of the school system, disposal of human trash, the traffic, and the treatment of the water. Immediately upon entering Jakarta, we were told to take great care when deciding what to consume, as regulations were not enforced or implemented. The traffic is perhaps the most jarring as traversing down any road, it was immediately noticeable how different driving was compared to the United States. It appeared as if there were no official rules and restrictions as it relates to the road. Somehow the chaos on the road simply worked. Through strong leadership Indonesia will have to address these issues in the future as it continues to grow. As a nation that is rapidly developing, it is clear that these government and infrastructure situations will be a major undertaking for Indonesia.
Beautiful: Being able to experience Indonesia firsthand, I had no idea what I was in store for. Seeing the island of Java up close, I witnessed a variety of natural landscapes that Indonesia has to offer. From the water rice paddies, the mountains towering over the countryside, the Cipendok waterfall, natural springs at Baturadden, the serenity of the Indian Ocean, and many more landforms, I was in awe at the beauty of Indonesia. Not only were there many natural landforms to behold, but the people have left their mark on the countryside as well. They have created awe-inspiring monuments like the National Monument in Jakarta, the unique skyscrapers dotting the landscape of Jakarta, the towering Hindu and Buddhist temples of Prambanan and Borobudur, and unique mix of natural and man-made landforms of Baturadden. I highly recommend anyone to visit the beauty of Indonesia.
National Pride: As a rather new country, they are prideful and cognizant of the purpose of setting a national identity. From the flag ceremony that lasts one hour at the start of each week to the many flags that adorn the the highways, Indonesia does not take this identity for granted. Also wearing Batik was a sign of pride for many people. At least one day a week, students were required to wear Batik, which looks similar to a Hawaiian shirt. This cloth has many different variances, as each island and major city has its own unique take on the process. When I purchased and wore my own Batik shirt, there was a smile seemingly on everyone's face as a Westerner had decided to wear their own traditional clothing. The single most profound experience that helped me to realize how prideful the people of Indonesia were was when I was tasked with giving a speech in front of the entire school of 800 students. Quickly I won over the crowd when I began simply by stating the word, "Indonesia...". An eruption of applause overcame the entire audience. I couldn't believe how easy it was to win over the crowd. Trying to restart the sentence I was going to say, as soon as I uttered, "Indonesia..." massive cheers came over the crowd again. Any mention of how beautiful and amazing the country is, was treated with appreciation and pride.
Make no bones about it, I’m so grateful and thankful for my extraordinarily amazing, memorable experiences in Indonesia, but...... I’m ready to see my baby and wife soon. The anticipation was palpable. I was mere hours from being home, yet I still had some great new experiences to be had in Jakarta before I left. Today’s meeting with the group was to sum up the time spent in Indonesia. First going through how to write a blog (hopefully I paid attention and this blog is done correctly!), we spent time on how to report back on our experiences in a positive and effective manner. While this seemingly is a simple task, it was a great activity as it forced us to think of a positive narrative for the experience for three different groups of people who will want to know about your trip. The first was for the average person who comes up to you and wants a quick two sentence summary. My summary is, “I’ve never taken so many selfies in my life! Indonesia provided a lot of amazing memories, be it the temples, the people, or the food”. The next person was the co-worker who would want a more in depth, 30 minute overview of the experience. Finally, we prepped for the loved one who would listen (or endure?) every minute detail of my trip (thanks Kelly, loving wife!). Perhaps the best part of the last session as a whole group was to get in a big circle and say something positive about someone else in the group. Sarah stressed that it didn’t have to be our travel partner. I’m all about passing on the positivity, and I could see no better way to do so. To my surprise, I was brought up as one of the first by Jennifer for being willing to help out with technology. Later I was again mentioned for helping with technology by Anu. As most people went around and shared thankfulness for their travel partner, I had three people that I wanted to thank. There’s no exaggeration being said when I say that Niki, Christy, and Kate were instrumental with helping keep positive throughout this trip. Their positive attitudes were so amazing to have throughout the trip. Everyone likes a good compliment and this session ending our main coursework on a high note. Leaving for a couple of hours to kick back before the much anticipated final dinner, I caught up on my pictures and got one last swim in. Heading out to a place that Michael and Ursula had previously dined at, the spoke highly on the location. We all dressed in our Batik, which was a sight to behold. The women looked exceptional in their colorful dresses as it spoke of the festive spirit of Indonesia. The men wore collared shirts with a wide variety of Batik print. Taking our seemingly last group picture, we boarded the bus and road to the restaurant located in Jakarta. Heading to the western side of Jakarta for the first time put in perspective how truly massive the city was. Having to get from one place to another takes a serious amount of time as the expansive boundary line for the city seems to never end. Arriving at Talaga Sampireun restaurant, I could immediately tell that this was going to be a unique venue to dine at. The restaurant wasn’t a typical restaurant, as we walked through a botanical garden of tropical trees. Throughout the tropical canopy were several quaint glass huts with a straw roof, where a large group would dine. The unique presentation immediately brought a smile to my face and delayed my urgency to get home. Inside the glass hut was a low dining table surrounded by pillows. Shoes were required to be removed upon entering. The glass hut was located on a koi fish pond, which looked more akin to what I would imagine a Japanese setting would look like. The hut had two door walls that led out to a narrow dock where we could take in the serene, relaxing view. They even included fish food for the plentiful koi fish in the pond. Taking several pictures in our Indonesian best garb, we ordered out drinks and food. I ordered a watermelon drink, which tasted exactly what you’d imagine a drink consisting of watermelon would be. Sitting by my favorite Indonesian lady, Dewi, we engaged in great conversation with Christy and Craig. The battery on my camera died, but this was almost a blessing because I was truly untethered and able to fully enjoy the moment. While surrounded by several fellows, I slipped out to a side of the dock where no one else was sitting. Finding comfort in my own thoughts, I looked over the edge into the water with the koi fish swimming by, reflecting on the journey that I had been on. It was one of the most calming moments for me throughout the entire trip. I was able to put aside all responsibility and simply enjoy the moment, staring into the sun. Joining the group as dinner arrived, Dewi had ordered for the group. Unfortunately everything was mainly seafood, which I knew wouldn’t fill me up. Seeing that I wasn’t alone on not dining solely on a giant fish head, more chicken was ordered. Sharing family style, we also had a breaded banana with shredded sweet cheese that was delightful. Wrapping up the dinner, we waited for our bus in the restaurant outdoor lobby where lizards scurried about. Seeing Mike continue to make Instagram Boomerangs entertained us as always. The night at Talaga Sampireun was a wonderful way to end our time as a large group. Several members were given final goodbyes as they were off to their own extended destinations in Indonesia, primarily at Bali.
The first official day back in Jakarta! Feasting on an all too familiar exquisite breakfast buffet, we later met as a large group in the hotel conference room for our day’s meeting. The topic of discussion was the International Leaders in Education Program ILEP and working on our independent research goals. Starting off, we wrote on a big sheet of paper our goals. My goal was to find out what the real Indonesia was all about. “What are the first 3 things that come to mind when you think about Indonesia?”, was my question. Everyone went around the room and wrote suggestions on sticky notes for what they could contribute to each other’s questions. The group had several similar themes for what they thought about regarding my question. After the meeting at the hotel, we were supposed to go to Taman Mini. This would have been amazing to see, but unfortunately we weren’t able to visit it. Instead we went shopping for souvenirs at two local malls. To my surprise, 90% of the group didn’t need souvenirs as well. Instead of shopping, we walked through the malls seeing what odds and ends items they had. I was surprised how much cheaper Batik was in Purwokerto. This was primarily due to Purwokerto being the production center for the fabric in the country. After finishing shopping, we headed back to the hotel. Dinner was on our own, so I joined Sarah, Elicia, Kate, Niki, Mike, Craig, and Wendy to a wonderfully fancy and delicious dinner that Sarah recommended in Jakarta. Sarah visited the restaurant I believe two times already since we had arrived, which prompted the wait staff to provide us with tasty appetizers for free. The room was empty besides us, as we dined on the great meal. The best part of the night was when the wait staff generously gave us several amazing desserts for free as well. I believe it was due to Wendy going into the kitchen earlier to thank and appreciate the wait staff. They served out of an ice cube bowl in the shape of a duck’s head a vegan friendly lemon ice. There was also a vegetarian dessert for Kate. In front of Sarah and I they provided what looked like a round chocolate ball, but once they poured a hot liquid onto it, the entire treat melted back, exposing an ice cream core. Thinking this was the end of the meal, they topped it off with two rounds of the best free cotton candy I’ve ever had or seen. It was layered in several different colors. Feeling totally full, we headed back to the hotel for a great night’s sleep.
Circled on my calendar for some time was Rudhi’s brother’s wedding, which I was so honored to be invited to. To my surprise, I found out that the wedding actually happened last Sunday, which Rudhi had missed in Jakarta. So this wedding, really wasn’t a wedding. It was more of a reception. None-the-less it was exciting to see the wedding celebration, which was at Rudhi’s childhood home. Being that we had another 8 hour drive for which we were to return to Jakarta, Sarah had informed us that we must leave by 10am. Inside the wedding reception, there was a large tent and intricate flowers assembled throughout the red and yellow linens. We were early, but there was no official start time as people were expected to arrive and leave when they wanted. There were several people part of the wedding dressed up in traditional wedding attire. Taking several pictures with the wedding party, it wasn’t too long before Dewi got in touch and confirmed that we had to leave by 10am. As much as I loved Purwokerto, I was super excited to reach Jakarta and the Le Meridien hotel. Here I’d be able to once again be with the people who now seemed like close friends, even though I’ve only known them for a short couple of days. The ride back was uneventful, as I required no stopping since I was focused to get back to the big group. Exhausted from the experience, it was refreshing seeing familiar faces when I entered the lobby of the hotel. Kate and Niki having been in the lobby when I arrived, warmly greeted me to find out how everything went. Once I caught them up to speed, they could tell how tired I was. It was one of the most memorable and charitable moments of the entire trip when the two girls offered to help me with my numerous luggage bags to my room. Normally I’d decline the offer, but this thoughtful gesture was so appreciated and needed. Their friendliness upon arriving back was the much needed energy boost that I needed to finish this trip strong. Originally I didn’t plan on making it back as quick as we did, i.e. I didn’t plan on joining the big group to dinner this night. Knowing little about the dinner arrangements, I was surprised by their rushing for me to get ready, as I assumed the dinner was going to be at the hotel. To my surprise, it was actually held at a nice restaurant downtown Jakarta. Zoning out on the bus, staring off into the distance in silence, I felt a sense of home being back with the main group. Finally arriving at the grandiose hotel, which housed our dinner, I sat by Christy at the large table where we were the only attendees in the restaurant. There was a great sense of optimism and exuberance as people were excited to mingle with others in the group. As much as I tried my best to partake, I’m sure I couldn’t hide the look of exhaustion. Sitting by Christy was wonderful as her cheerful optimism was wonderful. I enjoyed hearing about her, Wendy, and Anu’s trips. Settling in with a wonderful meal of mashed potatoes and steak, I was caught off guard as the lights dimmed and unsettlingly loud music blared overhead. A somewhat faithful take on Happy Birthday blared overhead. Unbeknownst to me, it was a belated birthday celebration, with cake, black and white balloons, and the wait service and group singing to me. The excitement shared by the group was infectious. Sharing my bumpy Oreo like cake with the rest of the group, this further helped wake and lift my spirits up. Once back at the hotel, it felt like home checking in to my room, settling in after contacting my wife and baby, and finding a sense of calm in Jakarta. Seeing the endless traffic jam in Jakarta from my window brought an surprisingly sense of comfort for me.
About Matthew Cottone
Experience the World! This is my creed I bring to my classroom and my life. I'm a World Studies teacher at Van Hoosen Middle School and I have a passion for learning and experiencing the world.